Parents of O-Level Students: Should You Care About the ‘JAE-IP Divide’?

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Is your teen sitting for the GCE O-Level exams this year?

Like many parents from our KSP community, you might have googled the latest O-Level results when they were released in January, as well as junior college (JC) entry scores. During your search, you might also have come across forum threads and articles on the ‘JAE-IP divide.’ In fact, it’s something that our KSP forummers have discussed too!

What exactly is the JAE-IP divide, and how could it affect your teen?

Well, based on online chatter, it seems that some O-Level holders entering top JCs via the Joint Admissions Exercise (JAE) have found it challenging to blend in with their Integrated Programme or IP peers. Whether the divide truly exists — as well as its extent — is of course debatable. Raffles Institution has a blog post that directly addresses this, and it’s worth a read.

On our KSP forum, we have regulars who claim that this problem is pronounced and prevalent. At the same time, others question if the perceived divide is due to factors such as difficulties in adjusting to JC life, as well as the tendency for students who are already familiar with one another to band together.

Here’s our advice: Unless you are hearing about the JAE-IP divide from a trusted source, it’s best to take what you read online with a pinch of salt. If there are JCs that your teen is interested in, try to contact existing students through your network to find out what they think. Do be mindful that each person’s experience is shaped by their personality, as well as their past encounters, which affects how they view the world. Therefore, someone else’s perception of school life may not apply to your teen at all, and you shouldn’t let one person’s negative experience deter you from a path that you’re interested in.

Quite certain that your teen will do well enough in the O-Levels to enter a top JC? Here’s what you can do to mentally prepare him/her for the road ahead.

Confidence Begins at Home

Why do some teens spend more time and energy worrying about whether or not someone has smiled at them, or given them a ‘strange’ look? This is known as rejection sensitivity, and some individuals are more prone to this.

Teens who are high in rejection sensitivity need plenty of reassurance. If left unchecked, fearful teens may exhibit behaviours, such as lashing out, which push others away. This is known as a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy,’ where an initial fear of rejection results in actions that lead to an actual rejection by others.

In one study that observed children from age one to teenhood, it was found that the following groups of teens were more likely to experience rejection sensitivity:

  1. Teens who had difficult relationships with their parents in early and middle childhood
  2. Teens whose parents had significant conflict (physical or verbal) with each other 
  3. Teens whose parents had a mental health issue, such as depression or addiction

Do any of the above apply to your family? It’s not too late to seek professional support. Beyond helping your teen to cope better in JC, you would also be helping him or her to cultivate better relationships in the long run.

Know Your ‘Whys’

Why does your teen want to enter a top JC? If it’s merely to please you, your teen won’t have the intrinsic motivation to overcome obstacles and push for success. Therefore, your teen should have a clear idea of why a ‘dream’ JC is the most suitable place for him/her. And there’s no reason to wait till the exams are over, or the release of the results to talk about this — it’s good to start discussing your teen’s options now!

You should also be aware that some teens thrive on competition to do better, while others will falter as their confidence ebbs away. Having observed how your teen has coped in primary and secondary school, you might already have a good idea of whether your teen is suited for a ‘big pond’ environment. Discuss this honestly with your teen, and see what your teen feels.

If you are worried that JC choice will affect access to certain local universities, do take a look at the starting salaries of fresh graduates across our local institutions. Yes, there is a slight disparity for median salaries across institutions, and a significant disparity across courses (even within the same institution) — but is this important for leading a meaningful and fulfilling life? It’s something for you and your teen to think about.

Make Better Decisions

Choosing a JC is a big step, and this is the perfect time to show your teen what an effective decision-making process looks like. By getting an early start, you can weigh your options carefully, and even change your mind!

If you don’t have a mental model for making decisions, you can try a four-step approach known as WRAP (read more about it here):

  1. Widen your options: Have you considered all options that might work for your teen? Why are you limiting your choices to JCs only, or just a few JCs? It’s good to guard against a narrow framing of choices — you might be missing out on something worthwhile for your teen.
  2. Reality-test your assumptions: What assumptions do you currently hold about your options, and how can you collect information that you can trust and use? For instance, one way to find out more about a JC is to talk to existing students, parents, and teachers, if you can reach these individuals through your network. 
  3. Attain distance before deciding: Emotions can hinder your decision making; for instance, fear can cause you to shy away from growth opportunities. Talking to trusted friends and seeking their opinions may help you to see things with a more objective view.
  4. Prepare to be wrong: We can never predict how the future will unfold. That’s why it’s good to have Plan B, or at least, to go forth with the notion that nothing is set in stone. If a particular JC doesn’t work out for your teen, what’s next? Talk this through with your teen, and let your teen know that he/she can always count on your support.

Want to link up with other parents for your JC questions? Find a suitable networking group on our KSP forum!